As I write this I am sitting in my hotel room in Fort Lauderdale, my grueling journey south to warmer climates comprised of a 30 hour bus ride from St Louis, with a charming layover in Atlanta at 1am on Friday night. In an effort to save money I decided to take a Greyhound bus instead of flying, which at this time of year is expensive. Although my travel left a lot to be desired, it certainly gave me a lot of time to think. During my travel I considered what we learned during our lecture with Charles Minchew. He discussed the importance of the user-friendliness of our website designs and about how web sites are “all about the presentation of the content you’ve gathered.”
I came to realize that transport, as an industry, offers an essential service. But just like a website, what makes a customer choose one company/mode over another? The content of the two forms of transportation was essentially the same – they are designed to get you from point a to point b. So what really makes the difference (and this is reflected in the more popular use of airplanes) is the way in which your journey is presented.
A good website is aesthetically pleasing, it welcomes you – in text and design, is easy to navigate, and gives you a reason to come back. Just like a badly designed website, Greyhound buses, in general, don’t appear to understand the importance of the list above.
Let’s start with aesthetically pleasing – Now to be fair, the buses were cleaner than I thought they’d be, and I was lucky to have gotten a seat that had an electrical outlet nearby so my iPod stayed charged for the entire 30 hour trip. However, if my fellow passengers where to be considered part of the scenery, it would be a different matter. I witnessed man in a full-blown, furry white pimp suit with a top hat and gold shoes (would’ve got photo but afraid of being stabbed) and a middle aged, toothless woman in a pink track suit with a swastika tattoo on her back, These people act as not-so-great mascots for all Greyhound clientele, dismantling any notion of family friendly travel on a budget.
It welcomes you – Well, out of the Greyhound employees I met, I’d say that roughly 9 out of 10 of them hate their job. Walking around the station like chronically disgruntled robots, if you stop and ask them for help or direction they will respond by either telling you they don’t know, or point out another employee that we should ask, someone who is presumably more “in the know” than they are.
This coincides with the navigational shortcomings I encountered on my trip. A lack of information regarding departures, terminals and times (something essential if you don’t want to get left at the station) was prevalent at every bus station we went to. There were no TVs, signs or any other media indicating when or where you were to get on your bus and as I mentioned previously the staff didn’t seem to think it was part of their job either. Intuitive navigation is an essential part of a functional website. If i’m looking for content and a website doesn’t make it easy for me to find, I generally go back to google and try another resource.
Finally, a reason to come back. This could most often be a combination of all of the above, perhaps a reward scheme for frequent use or maybe just offering a service you can’t get anywhere else. It seems to me that this is the only thing that Greyhound is successful at. With a huge network of buses and an established infrastructure, it’s impossible to find another service comparable for the same price. Just like the online world it seems like companies come and go, internet giants such as Napster and Myspace fade away and there are a million eager entrepreneurs ready to take their place. However, it seems to me that as long as you have a few people operating on a budget, you’ll continue to have Greyhound.